Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Double for All Our Sins???

This week's scriptures are Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8.

I have to confess that I find this week's passage disturbing.

Oh, there are a lot of really good things about it. Isaiah 40:1 is a magical passage: "Comfort my people says your God; speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her htat her warfare (or time of bondage) is ended." The gentle care of this verse invokes warm and marvelous images of soothing mothers tending the hurts of their children....but listen to the rest of the verse, "for she has recieved at the Lord's hand double measure for all her sins."


I'm not sure about you, but if someone came to me offering comfort, and said, "by the way, things were twice as bad as they should have been---and I did it," my response might be less than cordial.

Unless we want to just pick and chose what makes us feel good in scripture, we need to look at this phrase and ask ourselves "what's going on here?" "what is this all about?" Because the prophet here isn't saying, 'tell them they really got a rough deal, the Babylonians were roughter on you than I wanted them to be; and this exile thing was a bit over the top."

No, the prophet, is reporting a conversation taking place in the Heavenly Court. And God is telling the subjects of that Court to comfort God's people and tell them that their time of warfare/bondage/exile is ended...and that the Lord had given them twice the punishment they deserved!

Does this bother you? Make you a little queasy? It does me. So what do we do now?
If we take scripture seriously, how will we address this passage?

And if you really want me to throw you a curve ball, remember that last week's Isaiah passage (64:1-9) was a response to that warfare/bondage/exile ending...and the kind of ending they got not being what they expected. In other words...the great homecoming wasn't all it was cracked up to be!

You have to admire the honesty of the writer(s) of Isaiah. They didn't pull their punches; they didn't mince their words. Should we?

Advent is a time of expectation. It is also a time of examining the pain that our personal and corporate wounds and sins (things done to us as well as things we've done) have caused us, those around us, and all creation. We cannot honestly look forward in expectation of embracing the new unless we can also look solidly at the past and at our feelings about it. And, we need to acknowledge that Advent, when it comes, may not be anything like what we expect. Just as Job cried out for an answer; when God answered, it was nothing like Job expected.

So what are we going to do with this passage? Well, I'm going t make you a deal (in the back of my mind I hear some 60's comedian saying, "such a deal I have for you").
I'm going to study this passage up and down before Sunday and try to get a handle on what is happening here. So are you. You're going to read it, pray over it, goggle it, look at a commentary if you have one. And on Sunday we're going to meet and look at it together.

Sunday's sermon will be what is often referred to as a Dialogue Sermon. This means I won't do all the talking. I'll share what I've come up with and then invite you all to join me in a prayerful conversation about the passage.

I hope to see you on Sunday as we practice the Priesthood of All Believers in this particular way.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Neat idea! I look forward to hearing how it goes.

The way I tend to 'stomach' this kind of passage is by accepting the fact that all of the old testament talks about hardships as "God's wrath," and such. I almost just look at it as an expression. So saying you got twice what you deserved - the acknowledgment of that - is a kind of mercy. Albeit retroactive...

But I guess if even in our New Testament times we believe (and I go back and forth on this) that nothing happens except by God's doing, then maybe there was a reason Israel was punished twice as much. Maybe God was sending a message in the suffering. It wouldn't be the first or last. But again, God's admission of guilt in this offers a little balm to the wound.

Maybe this is getting to personal, but I recall a certain father who promised to take his daughter to a basketball game if she kept her grades up or something. The daughter didn't keep up her end, and then neither she or her dad went to the game. This was disappointing for both of them. But the daughter had 'sinned.' The punishment was crushing, because it was intended to be a reward. But the fact that it was crushing to the father to helped it feel less cruel.

Of course comparing that to years of slavery is a stretch...